NEW DELHI, March 22, 2015 (Morning Star News) – The rape of an elderly nun in West Bengal was a planned part of an attack on a Christian institution and not merely an after-thought in a robbery as portrayed in mainstream media, Christian leaders say.
A police report submitted to the state government said the suspects in the incident on March 14 at the Convent of Jesus and Mary at Ranaghat, Nadia District, were “not locals,” and that the attack was a well-planned targeting of the convent school and nuns.
Seven or eight gunmen stormed the convent compound at about 2:30 a.m. after overpowering a security guard, according to a police complaint filed by the school. After pointing a pistol at the guard’s head, the suspects tied him up and forced their way into the main building.
Earlier the attackers had disconnected two of the three telephone lines of the convent. They also tried to destroy a Closed Circuit TV camera near the gate but failed; four of the 12 CCTV cameras were functioning, recording the faces of four of the attackers.
The assailants proceeded to loot US$19,255 from the school. After they had taken the cash, the gang moved to the first floor, where the nuns working in the school reside, and forced a guard to call the sisters. As soon as a nun opened the door, they stormed in and demanded the senior-most sister; as the principal and other sisters pointed to the oldest nun, the assailants took her to another room and raped her, according to an investigating official.
The assault on her went on for more than an hour. The attackers also reportedly tied up three of the five nuns in the house before entering the principal’s room and ransacking it.
They then proceeded to the chapel and desecrated the Communion Host, throwing the wafers on the floor.
“The pattern of desecrating the chapel and the sacred Host is remarkably similar to the attack on the church in Vasant Kunj earlier in the year,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission. “There is no doubt that the incident is not merely an armed robbery as it is made out to be.”
A convent official in Ranaghat told media the attack deeply hurt the Christian community.
“It is not a mere dacoity [robbery by dacoits, or gangs in India and Burma],” the official said. “It is an attack on the religion. They assaulted a consecrated woman who devoted her life to service, and they desecrated the church.”
Herod Mullick, state working president of the All India Christian Council, said the attack appeared to be part of a trend.
“It is evident that the attackers had a motive other than robbing the place,” Mullick said in a statement. “There are similarities to incidents in Delhi and Bengaluru.”
After reportedly looting the money, desecrating the chapel and raping the nun, the attackers treated themselves to imported chocolates, cake and pastries meant for the students. They ate for about one hour, leaving the convent around 4:30 a.m.
“They threw away the food they could not eat and trampled on them before leaving,” the Indian Express reported. “They broke open all the doors and cabinets.”
As word of the rape spread, angry parents of children studying at the convent and other residents of Ranaghat took to the streets. They blocked trains on the Sealdah-Ranaghat route, as well as traffic on National Highway 34.
As the protests continued the following days, protestors blocked the convoy of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who arrived at Ranaghat to meet the nun. Shouting, “We want Justice” and “We want CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation],” the crowd delayed the chief minister for over an hour, upsetting her.
Later police registered a suo motu case against the protestors, mostly students of the convent, their guardians and other local people. Police also announced a cash reward of US$1,600 to anyone who can provide any information about the attackers.
The unnamed nun, who had to undergo surgery because of her wounds, said she forgave the young men who raped her.
“My heart is broken,” she reportedly said from her hospital bed, adding that she prayed that the assailants be forgiven.
Hospital Superintendent Atindranath Mondal told media the nun was more concerned about the security of the school and its students than her own trauma.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Union Home Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission have sent notices to the government of West Bengal registering their concerns and asking for reports.
Parliamentarians protested in Delhi on Tuesday (March 17), shouting, “We demand justice.” The uproar prompted Chief Minister Banerjee to hand over the case to the CBI.
She commented on Twitter on Wednesday (March 18) that the government would provide all cooperation and assistance to the CBI. At press time 17 people had been detained for questioning, but no arrests had been made. A four-member team of the National Commission for Women (NCW), which visited the convent on Saturday (March 21), pointed out the lack of arrests.
“The pictures of the perpetrators are there on the camera, the faces are seen, but still no arrests; why?” NCW member Shamina Shafiq told media. “This is one question that needs to be answered.”
The Christian community has held several demonstrations and silent prayer vigils in support of her in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh and Pune.
The nun recovering from her injuries left West Bengal for an undisclosed location early Friday morning (March 20).
Photo: Ranaghat railway station, West Bengal. (Wikipedia)